Expect to be reeling up strange music boxes, occult notes in bottles, and… three-eyed fish?
Looking for a game as fresh as the ocean breeze? Well, “Dredge” definitely feels fresh, but you should beware what lies under the depths. “Dredge” was created by four-person team Black Salt Games and released just last month on March 30, already taking its place as a surprise indie hit. The four developers have put two years into this passion project, and the nuance and effort definitely shows.
“Dredge” has you thrown into the position of an unnamed fisherman, indebted to a small town after crashing your fishing vessel into their port. You pay off your debt quickly by taking up a job as the local fish supply for this town, and start to make a pretty comfortable and relaxing living.
The core gameplay involves taking a boat out to the sea, exploring the islands and people that reside on them. Of course, there’s also fishing, which is the main way you make money in the game. “Dredge” has an oddly satisfying fishing system that rewards precise timing and inventory management, but doesn’t punish those who want to play it slow and safe.
The town mayor assures you that nothing bad will happen in these waters… but with a small caveat, saying,
“Finally, I don’t suppose I need to say this, but get back by sundown, before the fog rolls in. Keep a close eye on the time. It can really creep up on you.”
See, once the clock strikes 6pm (I know, I thought it was a little early too), your poor old fisherman will begin to lose his mind a little. Panic is a key mechanic in “Dredge,” indicated by a frantic eyeball at the top of your screen, darting around faster and faster as the night progresses.
Your character’s panic is not misplaced; some weird things happen in these waters at night. You’ll start to hear noises, find gruesome aberrations of fish in the water and see ships that aren’t really there. Strange glowing lights all around call you to come closer and players don’t have any idea what benefits or horrors might come from following them. “Dredge” is a masterwork in fear of the unknown, and the developers know this well.
“I think the tension probably comes from the unknown and the deliberate freakiness that we’ve thrown at the game. We hold a lot back and let players imagine things a lot of the time,” says Joel Mason, one of the lead programmers at Black Salt Games.
The people of this world aren’t blind to these things, either. I found myself immersed in the grotesque descriptions, peculiar townsfolk and oppressive atmosphere the game has to offer. The developers took inspiration from games like “Papers, Please” and “Frostpunk,” where you’re forced to make tough choices and live with the terrible things happening around you.
There’s a lot to be said about the art style of “Dredge” too. The developers pulled artistic influences from games like “Disco Elysium” and “Dishonored” in their stylized and abstract painted portraits. The game also features a low-poly environment that compliments the rest of the art well.
“The actual art style for “Dredge” kind of… came out of itself. We had the prototype, which was a kind of low-poly looking, stylized game. It seemed to work really well with the horror elements… I kinda tried to keep that going forward,” says Alex Ritchie, the lead artist and creative director on the team.
This expert combination of intriguing visuals and writing with well-polished gameplay truly makes this game a gem; I was having a hard time putting it down to actually write this article. The way “Dredge” merges contrasting the theme of serenity of the ocean with the unsettling nature of the occult is solely unique to itself among video games. If anything said here has caught your attention and you’re interested in picking this game up, it’s available for $25 on both PC and consoles, including Nintendo Switch!